Success Stories

Gleason Bison: Raising Bison

In 2010, Sarah Gleason discovered that she wanted to raise bison.

She was living in Durango and working as a marketing assistant for Zuke’s (yes, the dog treat company), and she became interested in agriculture and livestock.

“I visited a bunch of bison operations,” she says, “and I was hooked.”

Throughout the process, she discovered holistic management, which is a decision-making framework that works in sync with nature to raise animals in a way that is sustainable for the land, animals, and people. Shortly thereafter, Sarah was introduced to Holistic Management International—an organization based in Albuquerque that provides education and training for ranchers and farmers.

She began holistic management training, which is where she met the SBDC’s consultant, Cindy Dvergsten. “That connection launched me on the trajectory I am on now by opening my eyes to the world of managing land and livestock regeneratively.”

But, it would take 10 years for Sarah to make her dream a reality.

In 2012, she went on to work in marketing for Whole Foods before taking a position with the Savory Institute, which was started by Allan Savory, the founder of holistic management. “I traveled the world meeting with farmers and ranchers who were managing their land regeneratively and experiencing incredible results.”

In 2020, Sarah returned to Durango and started Gleason Bison, a 900-acre holistically managed bison ranch in Hesperus. It’s a cow-calf herd, so she sells calves and a meat label. Locally, Gleason Bison meat is sold at Sunnyside Meats and James Ranch. It’s also the only bison meat available from www.REPprovisions.com, where it can be purchased as a subscription and shipped nationally for free.

Sarah understands that relationships have been pivotal to helping her launch her business and overcome a number of obstacles.

“Anytime you make a career shift, it’s challenging,” she says. “And, livestock and agriculture is historically male dominated, so beginning brand new as a female in this industry comes with a unique set of challenges. Of course, the biggest barrier to starting a ranch is getting your hands on cash and capital for land and infrastructure. Partnerships are essential, and the SBDC creates and fosters those relationships.”

Recently, Sarah has been partnering with students at Fort Lewis College, and she was featured in FLC Voices, the campus magazine. She enjoys working with students and teaching them methods and best practices of holistic management.

For anyone who is interested in starting their own business or ranch, she offers this advice, “At the end of the day, it’s all about relationships. With enough human creativity and the right partners, absolutely anything is possible.”

Phoenix Physical Therapy

Phoenix Physical Therapy: Rising from the Ashes.

In 2017, veteran physical therapist SueB Earl found herself looking for a new place to call her professional home.

After working for the Mercy system for more than fifteen years, she unexpectedly lost her position. She pursued the private sector but couldn’t seem to find a good fit.

So, she finally decided to open her own practice.

In 2012, she had launched Footworks—a custom foot orthotics business—as a side gig. At the time, she had no idea how to run a business, and she relied heavily on the SBDC for guidance. Through the years, she continued to be an active part of the SBDC community; she attended the annual women’s conferences and a number of workshops.

But, when she decided to launch a physical therapy practice, which was going to be a full-time venture, she found that she needed quite a bit more help with the business side of things.

“I consulted with Mary, and she gave me some reference materials. She was very encouraging, which really helped! I got access to some different tools that helped me start putting the business together.”

Then came the business plan. Not having a background in finance, SueB felt helpless when it came to crunching the numbers.

Mary connected SueB with Laurie Keck, who proved to be a lifesaver. “She spent at least 10 or 15 hours with me and held my hand through the entire process. I got the information, and she organized the numbers in the business plan, which ultimately allowed me to acquire the loan I needed from Region 9. Her expertise was invaluable.”

Once the loan was secured, SueB needed a name for her practice. Her daughter suggested that she use a name that represented herself, and a friend immediately told her, “Well, that’s easy. Phoenix.”

SueB has been no stranger to challenges in her life, from battling cancer to dealing with professional setbacks and personal calamities, and she immediately knew that the image of a Phoenix rising from the ashes beautifully represented her new life and career.

Since opening her doors in November, the business has been a “soaring” success. The schedule is already full, and she has recently hired a new therapist. “I’m going to need to get back with Laurie to create a working business plan, not just one to get a loan. I’m looking forward to having her help me crunch numbers.”

“I would tell any new business owner that the SBDC is an amazing resource. They are there to guide you, support you, and provide resources, so you are making informed decisions and not just shooting in the dark. Also, Region 9 is great for helping small businesses get loans.”

SueB is also grateful to both the Durango and physical therapy communities who have been incredibly supportive. “Knowing that I’m beholden to Durango and appreciated—that feels pretty good.”

Durango Diner: Taking on a New Type of Adventure

Last year, while quarantined in his basement, Greg Mauger had an epiphany.

He was bored stiff, and he realized that he would rather work himself to death than be that bored. So, after more than a decade of working off and on at the Durango Diner, he decided to buy it.

He began looking for funding and quickly realized that his adventurous lifestyle didn’t lend itself to easy loan approval from banks. He looked for other options but found it hard to locate good information.

Then, he came across the SBDC.

“They gave me a lot of great information. What I learned was that someone in my position was not eligible for loans from traditional sources without collateral or experience in ownership. I also learned that in business, there’s a lot of opportunity if you are willing to be creative and reach outside the box.”

As of September 2021, Greg is the proud new owner of the Durango Diner. He also bought the salsa and green chile side of the business, which adds a whole other level of complexity to his role.

“So far, everything has been really good. I was and am very close with the previous owner, so I understand our core customer base, which has been really beneficial. Gary, the previous owner, still offers support, provides mentorship, and has helped me make connections.”

Since opening, the biggest challenge that Greg has faced has been adjusting to the schedule. “The way that this business has always been run is that the owner has been here working that grill seven days a week. He ran the Diner in partnership with his wife, but I’m just one person. My mother is assisting with the books, and I have a lot of employees and good help. But I’m doing quite a bit of the work myself.”

By and large, Greg plans to keep things at the Diner similar to how “it’s always been done.” He does look forward to modernizing, but all changes will be thoughtful, slow, and methodical. Most changes will be on the back end, and he hopes to make things a little easier on the staff. The biggest changes will be on the green chile and salsa side, which will be an even longer and more methodical process. That will involve a lot of new things—marketing, manufacturing, distribution, and new products.

Greg is incredibly grateful to the Diner’s loyal customer base. “I want to respect and keep them around. I appreciate that they’ve continued to support me through the transition.” If you’re a budding entrepreneur, he offers this advice: “I think you’d be surprised at what you’re capable of it you really put the hours in. If I put that energy into anything, I feel like I could have done any job or business. It doesn’t take significant brainpower—just dedication

Turquoise Raven Gallery: An Unkindness among the Artists

Paintings. Collages. Mosaics. Photography. Glasswork. Drawings. Walking Sticks. Books. Jewelry. Leatherwork. Pottery.

These are all things that ignite Mary Fuller’s passion for art. For years, she’s had a vision of bringing artists from the Four Corners together into dedicated fine art gallery.

In 2020, after various careers in both the education and nonprofit sector, she decided that it was time to make her dream a reality.

Being a former teacher, Mary understood the value of education. So, she enrolled in the SBDC’s Launching Your Business Workshop with Cindi Dvergsten. “Her knowledge was amazing! After the class, I had two meetings with her. Both were very valuable.”

Then, the pandemic struck, and Mary suddenly needed a lot of patience to get her gallery off the ground. Contractors were spread thin, and it took much longer than she could have anticipated to open the doors.

But, at long last, open they did!

The Turquoise Raven Art Gallery, located right on Main Street in Cortez, has now been open for one month.

The gallery is bright and airy, giving it a museum feel. The walls aren’t crowded with art; instead, each piece stands alone. Scattered throughout the gallery, you’ll find furniture and chess tables. This allows visitors to relax and take their time to get to know each piece of art.

So, how did she come up with the gallery’s name?

“Turquoise has significance in this area. Ravens are so intelligent, rambunctious, mischievous, and bold. It just sat right.”

A group of ravens is called an unkindness, which gave Mary the creative idea for the first exhibit title. She loves being part of the local art community, and some of the local artists have been instrumental in helping her get up and running. Some have been in galleries throughout the country and have been able to offer excellent advice.

Moving forward, Mary’s vision is to continue to create a market for local artists, so their work becomes collectible and appreciated. She also wants to build up young artists by helping them get into the professional art business. “I really want people in this area to be promoted by a gallery, and I want tourists to know that we are here. Montezuma County has numerous artists, and many bring talent, dedication and passion that has previously been unknown.”

Although she had originally planned to open during the summer, Mary is thrilled to be open in time for the holidays. In the coming months, she plans to host a number of small events, including artist talks, literary talks, workshops, art classes, and more. Once everything is running smoothly, she will host a grand opening.

Mary knows that the SBDC played a vital role in getting the Turquoise Raven Art Gallery up and running, and she encourages every prospective entrepreneur to take the SBDC’s class. “Recently, a young man came into the gallery, and I told him to take it when it’s available! There is so much to starting a business. The class gets you into that mindset of thinking that way; it’s important!”

Desert Sun Coffee Company: Making the World a Better Place

Durango has seen its fair share of coffee shops and roasteries. So, what makes Desert Sun Coffee Roasters any different from the others?

New owner Zachary Ray says it best, “At Desert Sun, we’re committed to relationships with our small-scale farmer partners. We work directly with them on environmental initiatives, supporting: regenerative-organic practices, reforestation projects, and tracking and rewarding carbon sequestration in their fields. This relationship-focused model guarantees the highest quality sustainable coffee on the market. We’re setting the bar higher for carbon responsibility and transparency in trade.”

The company is so committed to this mission that it is pursuing B Corporation status, which will give it a legal obligation to uphold its values for its stakeholders. Currently, Durango only has one B Corp; Desert Sun hopes to be the second.

As if that isn’t enough, Desert Sun intensely focuses on taking care of its customers and fulfilling their needs. Their goal is to give their end-buyers peace of mind knowing that everything has been taken care of. “We really value our customers a lot; we strive to provide phenomenal customer service (just ask anyone), accurate orders, and timely deliveries. This is all part of our bigger philosophy,” Zach says.

So, what does this have to do with the SBDC?

Zach has been working at Desert Sun for twelve years. As a first-generation college graduate, he took a job as a bean bagger shortly after he graduated. Through the years, he worked his way up. After a brief hiatus to work with the Shanta Foundation in Southeast Asia, Zach returned and took the position of general manager at the company. Soon he became part owner, and as of one month ago, he is now the full owner of Desert Sun Coffee Roasters.

“The SBDC’s Buying and Selling a Business Workshop was EXTREMELY helpful throughout the process. It taught me how to look at the business and showed me what pieces needed to be put together. They put me directly in touch with a consultant who helped review my business plan. In the end, the bank was enthusiastic about what was put together, which made all the difference,” Zach says.

Zach is honored to lead a team of dedicated employees. Desert Sun is Thrive certified, and most of his staff have been with the company for years. “People love the work. Desert Sun is value-based, and they come to work because of this. I am very grateful for a team who believes in what we’re up to, wants to be here, and participates in our mission.”

Being in one of the world’s most competitive industries, however, is not without its challenges. As a manufacturer, Desert Sun’s growth comes from outside the region. Zach and his team continually have to ask themselves, “How do we get people who aren’t from here to identify with our brand?”

Another challenge that the company faces is well-known by local manufacturers—how do they make their large vision happen in a small, remote town? Try getting coffee shipped here. It’s not easy!

If you’re thinking about starting a business, Zach would tell you, “Don’t get into this industry. Coffee is the #2 commodity on the planet; it’s crazy competitive. But, if you are thinking of buying a business, attend the SBDC’s Buying and Selling a Business Workshop. It was so instrumental in helping me understand the logistical process we would undergo to make it happen. Then, find a small bank. We were fortunate to work with a great local bank—and all of that happened because of the SBDC.”

Zach’s door is always open if you want to chat. He believes that having people join the conversation pushes the industry higher. “It’s really about walking the walk. How do we engage people and challenge the industry? How do we become leaders for responsible business? How do we be that example? If we’re going to change lives, let’s do it collectively—because at the end of the day, we exist to make the world a better place.”